"Running the Race"
One of the privileges of attending Beeson Divinity School was the opportunity to worship each week in Hodges Chapel. That space is a holy, sacred, and formative place to me, even though on my first visit, I was probably taken aback by the majesty and artwork, having grown up in a small, Southern Baptist church where our largest concern was the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. The dome at Beeson is this beautiful painting depicting Hebrews 11-12 with all of the saints who have gone before us—both the saints in the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11 and the saints of the church (early church fathers and mothers, missionaries, preachers, and faithful followers of Christ). While we don’t worship or pray to saints, they are a great cloud of witnesses who have shown us the way to Jesus through their lives of faith and sacrifice.
Yet the story did not end with them. The author of Hebrews wants us to understand that those who are in Christ are indeed saints and witnesses. We follow in the footsteps of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Lottie Moon, and so many others who have gone before us. Now, it is our turn to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV). We’re given this picture of a race, in which we have been handed the baton and are instructed to press on, to be found faithful.
Yet the only way we can press forward is by fixing our eyes on Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV). There’s a lot of danger in running, especially if you’re trying to look in two directions at the same time! If we turn around and focus our eyes only on what is behind us—on what we have left behind to follow Jesus—we will stumble. If we are so consumed by how the people around us are following Jesus and fix our eyes only on them, we will be distracted. If we turn inward and can only sinfully focus on ourselves, we will trip and fall. We must fix our eyes on Christ and Christ alone.
And if Jesus is the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, and if we are running the race after Him, surely we must know that suffering will come. When Christ calls, He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame. While we may not ever be nailed to a Roman cross and be crucified for our faith, we know that living for Jesus is at odds with the world and will bring persecution and pain. Yet the pain is temporary; the joy we will experience when we finish that race, are found faithful, and enter into the presence of Jesus will far outweigh any memories of suffering in this past life. On that day, we, like the saints who have gone before us, will hear that beloved welcome: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV):
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.